When Justin Lambert landed a job to develop an online presence with a boutique in Columbus, Ga., he saw immediate success and great potential in the future of the company. So much so that after almost a year on the job, he researched and compiled a four-hour presentation on a viable plan to grow the Columbus, Ga. boutique from a $3 million to a $40 million company in four years with Justin receiving up to 40 percent equity if the boutique met its goals.
A month later, he was fired.
“I was devastated,” says Justin. “I was so pumped about the future of the boutique, and I had put so much of myself into the research, projections and success of the business, but as it turned out, I was pushing the owner for growth she wasn’t comfortable with. Being fired for working too hard was absolutely crushing, and it took its toll on me. I retreated into a dark place for a couple of months.”
That was in 2012. Now, just over six years later, using that same proposal and after starting his own business, he has generated over $100 million in online sales and employs more than 200 team members.
“I came back more determined than ever,” says Justin. “I built the first one from scratch and knew I could do it again. I had a wife to support and a future to build.”
Unfortunately Justin had signed a two-year non-compete agreement. To keep moving forward, he would have to go 100 miles from Columbus, but he and his wife, Corey Kate, had no intentions of leaving Auburn.
Justin had earned two degrees from Auburn, an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and a MBA. The MBA taught him a lot about business, but it was the engineering degree that Justin relied on most.
“Engineering taught me how to figure things out,” says Justin. “It taught me a different way to think and to solve problems.”
He used those skills to develop a strategy.
Corey Kate, who then worked full-time for Auburn University, would stay behind in Auburn while supporting her husband while he followed – and built – his dream in South Alabama.
“That was a really tough decision, but one we made together,” says Corey Kate. “It was a huge adjustment, and it was hard, but we had to believe in God’s timing and just had to keep reminding ourselves it was temporary. But at the time, that didn’t make it any easier. We spent a lot of time going back and forth on weekends.”
He and Corey Kate needed a name for their new business. They wanted something that represented fashion, was classy and that was Southern.
“There was a mint julep cup holding pens by our computer,” says Justin. “Corey Kate pointed to it, and there was an instant reaction. We were, like, ‘that’s it!’” It encompassed everything they were looking for.
On July 2, 2012, just four months after suffering a crushing defeat, TheMintJulepBoutique.com opened for business in Foley, Ala.
“Starting a new business, especially so far from home, is lonely,” says Justin. “It requires an immense amount of work every single day – weekdays and weekends – and so many other parts of your life are sacrificed. I don’t think anybody can truly understand that until you go through it. I knew if I gave it my all – and I really do mean my all – to get the business up and running, I would reap the rewards later, and it would all be worth it.”
There were difficult months and a lot of anxiety in the beginning. Sales slumped just two months after opening, but Justin reverted back to his problem-solving skills and figured out that he had ordered too much summer inventory and needed to be well into fall.
“Once we made that adjustment, orders started coming in so fast that I didn’t have enough employees to fill them,” says Justin. “We went from one extreme to the other. I remember telling everyone in the warehouse that I would give them a $100 bill if they brought a friend in to help fill orders the next day. They did, and the orders were filled.”
When the non-compete ended in 2014, Justin, Corey Kate and a team of employees moved the entire operation to Auburn in one weekend, without shutting down the website or missing one order.
“I had 30 employees in Foley and only four moved with me (all were offered positions), so we literally relocated The Mint on Saturday and opened for business in Auburn on Monday with almost an entire new staff of employees.
“Once we were in Auburn, that’s when it really took off. We had a great staff, room to grow, and it’s been really fun to see some of my staff grow and reach their full potential,” says Justin.
“As defeated as I felt when I was fired, in the end, it was probably the best thing that could have happened,” says Justin. “It made me reevaluate everything. When I started The Mint, it wasn’t about the money. It was about the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do and to fulfill my number one goal of being a dad. I’ve always believed that’s my true calling, and now that Corey Kate and I have two little girls, I am enjoying the freedom to be with them any time and to be an integral part of raising them.”
The road to freedom was not easy for Justin, even knowing that being with his wife and daughters was his ultimate goal. Justin is a driven businessman and a natural leader; it is easy for him to get caught up in the need to win, to dominate, and to get totally consumed in the day-to-day requirements of running a business.
“One of our nine core values at The Mint is to ‘Achieve a balance of life,’ and I really struggled with that myself,” says Justin.
Justin reached out to fellow MBA classmate and friend, Alan Kemper, who has made a career out of analyzing, testing and evaluating leadership styles to help Justin find that balance he so desperately needed and longed for.
“Justin is a rare combination of intensity and integrity,” says Alan. “He wants to be the right guy and do the right thing no matter how hard he has to work to accomplish that.”
Kemper told Justin he was the perfect “turn-around CEO.” The guy who starts a new business or resurrects a floundering one. But then he needs to step away so that he does not become consumed with every project.
“Justin can literally believe people into being more successful than they ever thought they could be.” Says Alan. “He is a master at that. He puts so much into those he wants to see succeed, and with his leadership and guidance, they do.”
In addition to The Mint, Justin has done just that with two other online retail businesses – one he started and one he purchased – and turned them over to loyal friends who were there when he needed them, stuck with him through the hardships and are now running their own successful businesses.
“I saw a niche and launched one with my best friend who was with me through everything I have endured on this journey,” says Justin. “Then I bought into another one and helped that friend rebuild. Watching them run those companies and to see them thrive is something I love more than running my own business. I want to do more of that.”
In April of 2018, Justin took a huge step back, turning over the day-to-day operations of The Mint to an employee who he says he totally trusts with the business.
“It’s been a great move for me and for my family,” says Justin. “It’s taken some getting used to, but contrary to what some think, I have definitely not retired. No way. Alan has helped me realize my true passion is working with people on their businesses or teaching others how to start a business and I want to continue doing that. I want to create a portfolio of companies I have either started or invested in, and watch them flourish.”
Looking back, the lessons Justin has learned along the way are things he wants to share with others.
“From everything in life, you either win or you learn,” says Justin. “I want people to know it’s okay to fail, just fail fast and move on. When it comes to business, you only have to be right once.”
Justin says faith has also played a big part of his success.
“There were depressing times after college when I was looking for a job, and I was very frustrated with life,” says Justin. “I felt like, for the most part, I had done a lot of things right, stayed out of trouble, did well in school, and I just didn’t understand the path God was paving for me. Then I got the job in Columbus, and things were going great. I thought I had this life thing whipped, and then I was fired and in an instant, it was all taken away from me. Corey Kate and I didn’t know what we were going to do or how we were even going to make the next house payment, but we kept the faith. Every day, on my whiteboard to-do list I wrote pray. Now, when I take a step back and look at all that’s happened, it’s amazing to see how it all unfolded; the things God was doing, when He was doing them, and why He was doing them. It’s very humbling, and sometimes I just ask God, ‘Why did He pick me to be this blessed?’ Corey Kate and I truly give Him all the glory.”
When Justin graduated with his MBA, he applied for a job at MasterBrand Cabinets in Auburn, but never got a call back or even a response. He was very discouraged, upset, and angry. What some might see as coming full circle, almost exactly 10 years to the date, Justin purchased the entire 270,000 square foot MasterBrand facility to be the headquarters for The Mint and all his other businesses.
“Corey Kate calls those ‘God winks,’” says Justin.
Justin Lambert’s path to success has not always been easy, and there were many detours and road blocks, but no matter how many times he was knocked down, he always got back up, and he came up swinging and working hard toward the goals he had set. And he reached them.
“I want to enjoy spending as much time as I can with my girls,” says Justin. “I have found that balance. That peace. But, there is no way this is the end of my business career. The way I look at it, I am just getting started!”
Visit www.shopthemint.com; contact Justin Lambert at email@example.com.
Kate Asbury Larkin
Kate is a native of Opelika and is the outreach cooridnator for the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Auburn Alumni Association at Auburn University. She is a 1982 graduate of Ole Miss and a 1987 graduate of Troy State (now Troy University). Kate has two children, Anna Asbury, 27 and Bo, 25.